Without love, there is nothing. -A tagline for the movie
A mysterious epidemic appears across the world where people suddenly lose one of their senses. At first, it’s the loss of smell, which comes after a destructive temper tantrum. Epidemiologist Susan (Eva Green- who is French) and chef Michael (Ewan McGregor) begin a romantic relationship; her apt is opposite from the restaurant where he works. Soon, the loss of other senses plagues more… and more people; the civil authorities try to maintain order. Is love possible in such a time/situation?
Susan: [narratingthe 1st lines] There was darkness. There is light. There are men and women. There’s food. There are restaurants. Disease. There’s work. Traffic. The days as we know them, the world as we imagine the world.
This indie film reteams director David Mackenzie w/ his Young Adam (2003) star/fellow Scotsman- McGregor. The screenplay was written by a Danish man- Kim Fupz Aakeson; originally this story was set in Denmark. Connie Nielson (also Danish) plays Susan’s bestie- Jenny. To research her role, Green spent several days hanging out in labs in Glasgow w/ biologists and epidemiologists. Susan’s older co-worker Stephen is played by Stephen Dillane (British); he is best known for Game of Thrones. Michael’s boss/the restaurant owner is played by Denis Lawson (McGregor’s uncle); this was their 1st time working together. They both appeared in the Star Wars franchise; Lawson played Wedge Antilles in the original trilogy; McGregor played Obi-Wan Kenobi in the prequel trilogy and recent Disney+ series. Ewen Bremner (James- the sous chef) and McGregor were both in the two Trainspotting films; I need to watch those sometime. Alistair McKenzie (from Monarch of the Glen) plays Susan’s virologist co-worker; I recall watching the early seasons of that TV show on PBS.
Susan: Aren’t you going to ask why I haven’t been to work?
Stephen: Well, you’ve been sick.
Susan: Not sick, just unhappy.
Stephen: It’s the same thing.
Susan: Unhappy, on account of a man.
Are y’all fed up w/ the pandemic/COVID-19? Then, this is NOT the film for you, as it delves into similar events/themes! Yup, there are restaurant closings, face masks (KN95), and MANY people facing mental/physical breakdowns. Unlike Contagion, this story is told on a small scale w/ a personal feel. I’m a fan of McGregor (and NOT just for his looks); he usually makes acting look effortless. He brings an easy charm and lightness to Michael, though there is tragedy in his past. Susan is a serious scientist who also has a difficult past. Recently, I’ve seen Green in The Dreamers (her early role; directed by Bertolucci) and Clone/Womb (an indie co-starring Matt Smith). She brings to mind the reserved/elegant leading ladies of a past time, BUT w/ a modern twist. They have V good/easy romantic chemistry. A fun fact: The shaving cream tasted in the bath is actually made of white chocolate, as is the bar of soap bitten into- LOL! Mackenzie went on to direct Hell or High Water; check that film out if you haven’t yet.
 This is the “thinking man’s” end of the world type flick.
 I found this film quite enlightening, the performances intense, the music appropriate and, last but not least, the photography/ filming magnificent.
 Mackenzie films Glasgow in glory and decay, making wonderful use of water and reflected light, as he did in Young Adam. The hard jar of the camera on a bicycle sans steady-cam is a brave choice, but it draws your attention to visual sense and foreshadows the losses about to fall.
This is a moving film, a thought-provoking one, about love, connection, and all the things we take for granted.
In a room w/ no windows on the Eastern coast of Africa, James More (James McAvoy- an actor I really admire), is held captive by jihadists fighters. Thousands of miles away in the Greenland Sea, Danielle Flinders (Alicia Vikander), prepares to dive in a sub to the ocean floor. They’re drawn back to the Winter of the previous year, where a chance encounter in Normandy, France led to an intense romance. This was one of the recs (on Amazon Prime) a few weeks ago; I liked the lead actors and the trailer was V interesting. You can also see it on YouTube (for free). The veteran German director, Wim Wenders, is considered an “auteur.” The French cinematographer, Benoit Debie, does a fine job. This film is based on the novel by a British-born writer, J.M. Ledgard, who was a war correspondent and political consultant for 20+ yrs.
James: Death. It gets very real when you’re watching somebody die in front of you. You’re thinking, is this all I am? Is this all I added up to? And all the clichés are true. You’re thinking, why now? Why did it have to be… this happen, before I realize what life truly is? It’s direct, it’s immediate, and it’s their whole life exposed to you.
Dani: Did you think about your own death a lot?
James: I did, and I do.
Dani: I’ve heard people telling me that they’ve had those exact same thoughts when they fell in love.
James: No, you don’t die when you fall in love.
The 1st half is an intelligent and stylish love story; I thought it was told V well. James (an ex-soldier/intelligence expert) and Dani (a scientist who studies the deepest layer of the ocean) are opposites in many ways when they meet on the beach during vacation. It’s refreshing to see a romance where brains (as well as physical beauty) count! At first, James is the one to show interest, BUT it’s Dani who takes things to the next level (rare in modern films, as some critics/viewers noted). Their love/romantic scenes are shot in a way that is classy, unique, and soulful.
The 2nd half contains some action/intrigue, though is NOT as effective (yet important/modern issues- esp. terrorism- come up). Dani’s side of the story comes off as dull (unless you’re a scientist maybe), while James is put in more… and more danger. There are several scenes that drag on; the editing could’ve been much tighter. We see a few supporting characters, incl. a doctor played by Alexander Siddig (best known for his roles on Star Trek: DS9 and Game of Thrones). Many viewers were disappointed that the lovers were apart for such a big part of the movie. Also, there is a (possibly confusing) ending; we needed to see more! One of the main reasons to check out this film is its (natural) beauty. There was a LOT of shooting on location; sadly, the elegant home that serves as a hotel isn’t intended for tourists.
Post-apocalyptic sci-fi is set in a world/civilization after nuclear war, plague, or some type of disaster. I found a V long list of movies (on IMDB); here are ones I’ve seen so far: Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), Children of Men (2006), Planet of the Apes (1968), The Matrix (1999), and The Handmaid’s Tale (1990). While dystopian fiction usually explores social or political struggle, society has NOT yet collapsed (BUT might be on the brink). In apocalyptic fiction, the focus is more on the characters or on man vs. nature.
The World, the Flesh, & the Devil (1959) starring Harry Belafonte, Inger Stevens, & Mel Ferrer
Ralph Burton (Harry Belafonte) is a miner trapped for several days after a cave-in somewhere in Pennsylvania. When he finally manages to dig himself out, it looks like civilization has been destroyed in a nuclear incident. He drives to NYC and finds it deserted. Making a life for himself in a luxury high-rise apt bldg, he’s shocked to eventually find another survivor, Sarah Crandall (Inger Stevens), a 21 y.o. blonde socialite. They start to rely on each other and form a close friendship. Some time later, they hear of another survivor who arrives via his small boat- Ben Thacker (Mel Ferrer). Ralph gives Ben an injection that saves his life; Sarah takes care of him while he recovers. In time, tensions start to rise as Ben and Ralph vie for Sarah.
Ben: I have nothing against negroes, Ralph.
Ralph: That’s white of you.
This unique/lesser-known movie showed up under recommendations on Amazon after I watched Z for Zachariah (see review below). The director here, Ranald McDougall, worked for Warner Bros. from 1944-50; he got an Oscar nom for his screenplay of the noir classic Mildred Pierce (1945) starring Joan Crawford. From the mid-’50s, he was primarily active in TV and worked on lower-budget films. Belafonte (who does sing a BIT here and looks gorgeous) was at the top of his career at this time. Though perhaps known more as a singer and civil rights activist, he acted in several V fine films and even had his own production company! So far, I’ve seen Belafonte in Carmen Jones (1954) w/ Dorothy Dandridge, Island in the Sun (1957)- which also contains a interracial love story, and the noir Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) w/ Robert Ryan.
The first 40 mins of the story is ALL about Ralph; we see a lonely (yet positive-minded) Belafonte navigate the empty/eerie streets of Manhattan. I hadn’t seen the acting of Stevens (a Swedish-American w/ a tragic life/early death) and Ferrer (Audrey Hepburn’s 1st husband; born to a Cuban father and American mother) before; they do fine in their roles. Race is a big issue here; a Black man and white woman wouldn’t be seen as equals or allowed be a romantic pair onscreen (in a segregated society). In one pivotal scene, we see the sexual frustration of both Ralph and Sarah as he gives her a haircut. Even on her birthday, Ralph doesn’t sit down to dinner w/ her, as Sarah wants, but provides the music and food. He acts like it’s OK when Ben and Sarah start to go out alone (on dates). The ending wasn’t quite what I expected, BUT it was intriguing! I think fans of classics will enjoy this movie.
 This movie will grab your interest and exercise your moral fiber. Race, prejudice and pride are but minor subplots in this excellent film. […] Black and white has never been so colorful.
 Belafonte is terrific especially in his early scenes and Miss Stevens registers quite strongly during their tense exchanges. Most of all, director Ranald MacDougall captures a barren, decimated-looking New York City to awesome, jaw-dropping effect.
 A very thought provoking movie that was not accepted at the time, but in retrospect, way way ahead of its time. In a racially charged world, it put forth the premise that race, in the final analysis, is superficial and meaningless. Once you strip away the layers of conditioning and socialization, you find, at the core, good and evil and the age old struggle as to which will prevail. A simple story, told directly and honestly.
-Excerpts from IMDb reviews
Z for Zachariah (2015) starringChiwetel Ejiofor, Margot Robbie, & Chris Pine
After the end of the world she thought she was alone. She was wrong. -A tagline for the movie
A woman in her early 20s, Ann Burden (Margot Robbie- an Aussie), lives w/ her dog (Faro) on a farm in the Appalachian Mtns, sheltered from radioactivity by rocky hills and a clean underground water supply. After about a year of being alone, Ann encounters John Loomis (Chiwetel Ejiofor- a Brit), a research engineer who (aided by meds and a HAZMAT-type suit) walked from a govt bunker to her valley. Unknowingly, John bathes in a contaminated waterfall, so quickly gets V sick! He is nursed back to health by Ann in her house; she is a Christian and prays to God to save him (thinking he’s a good man). John regains his strength and starts to improve their lives w/ his ideas/skills. They become friends and- eventually- think of pursuing a romanticrelationship. Before that can happen, about 42 mins in, Faro runs ahead of Ann to another survivor- Caleb (Chris Pine- an American)!
This movie is based on the sci-fi book Z for Zachariah (1974) by Robert C. O’Brien; after his death, his wife and daughter crafted it into a YA novel. The “love triangle” was added in by the screenwriter (Nissar Modi- a Brit); only Ann (a 16 y.o. farm girl) and Loomis (a middle-aged engineer) are protagonists in the novel. The books has many convos btwn the characters re: religion vs. science, as a few readers have noted. The director (Craig Zobel- an American) recently gained some attention for HBO’s Mare ofEasttown (starring Kate Winslet). Tobey Maguire (who served as a producer) and Amanda Seyfried were originally cast in the lead roles, BUT both had to drop out. The title recalls a children’s book that John takes off a shelf: A is for Adam. As some viewers noted, Zachariah is the prophet murdered between the temple and the altar (the last of the prophets killed) in The Bible.
This movie was shot on location in New Zealand; the main set was about 40 mi. from the nearest town. Zobel commented that it “felt like a Summer camp” working w/ his small cast and crew. He and the 3 actors had a week of rehearsal; they did some improv while shooting (as I learned from watching a few interviews from Sundance film fest). Ejiofor (now in his mid-40s) is an actor I’ve admired since seeing his debut role in the indie Dirty Pretty Things (2002). He can express a LOT w/ little (or no) words; he has large/expressive eyes and was classically-trained (as many British actors). After Ejiofor was cast, one line was added in re: race (one of the funny moments). Speaking of great eyes… Pine (now in his early 40s) does quite well w/ his role here; Caleb knows how to use his sex appeal/charm on Ann. Robbie does well also: she (now just 31 y.o.) achieved a LOT of success at an early age. I learned that she just also started producing- V smart move. Check this movie out IF you’re looking for something thoughtful!
 Chiwetel Ejiofor gave a compelling performance. It was so real, I think the majority of us would understand what he’s going through. I was shocked by how outstanding Chris Pine was in this movie, just perfect. Margot Robbie was amazing as well, just a solid piece of acting by all.
It made for the perfect emotional love triangle. Even though only three people appear in this movie, it said so much about us as a society.
 This is probably the quietest and most understated post-apocalyptic movies you’ll ever see, but deep down, it is truly fascinating. With great performances, impressive directing and an intriguing plot, this film is massively engrossing and surprisingly simple to understand from start to finish.
…a fascinating study of humans in their most basic state: survival and animalistic desires, relating itself almost to Adam and Eve and biblical theory.
 Some films make you cry, some films make you laugh and some films just amaze you. Well, this one will make you think and digest information that you will see. Z for Zachariah may not be the most romantic film nor may it be an adventure, but hours after watching it, I was still thinking about what this film represents.
 Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has lasted because of the profound themes in her story – the morality of science, parental responsibilities, man’s vanity, the removal of the divine from creation etc. Nick Dear’s writing takes these all on, keeping the story’s political punch alive.
 …great comic timing in his depiction of the more playful parts of the Creature’s growing pains, and real tendresse and anxiety as the Creature battles his own internal conflict between love and revenge.
-Victoria Sadler (Huffington Post, 10/29/13)
Frankenstein (adapted by Nick Dear from Mary Shelley’s novel) returned to movie screens this past week (10/22 & 10/29) just in time for Halloween. I almost forgot that this was on (until I looked up my local movie listings this afternoon)! In my audience, I saw several older couples (as I’d expect to see at live theater), along w/ two young ladies (Japanese), and a few other women in their 20s and 30s. Filmed in 2011 at the National Theatre in London, this (sold-out) production has been seen by about 500,000 worldwide. Directed by Oscar winner Danny Boyle, Frankenstein features Cumberbatch and Miller (who seem to be good friends; both have played Sherlock) alternating between the roles of Victor Frankenstein and the Creature. FYI: I saw the version where Cumberbatch (long before he was a household name in either the UK or US) was the Creature.
 …it’s rather like seeing The Tempest rewritten from Caliban’s point of view.
 Cumberbatch’s Creature is unforgettable. “Tall as a pine tree,” as the text insists, he has humour as well as pathos… But there is also an epic grandeur about Cumberbatch. As he quotes Paradise Lost, his voice savours every syllable of Milton’s words…
-Michael Billington (The Guardian, 2/23/11)
Wherever the Creature goes, people scream in fear and/or beat him, until he comes upon the hut of a blind man, De Lacey (veteran actor Karl Johnson). This is a poor former professor (w/ a lot of old books) who lives w/ his farmer son, Klaus, and daughter-in-law, Agatha. De Lacey is kind and gentle w/ the Creature, teaching him in secret for about a year. The Creature clears away rocks (so the couple can till the soil) and fetches wood for making fire. The old man even tells the Creature that if he “is a good man,” then someday he’ll have someone to love. One day, De Lacey insists upon introducing him to the family. It goes wrong- quickly and like the “emperors and heroes in the stories” he’s read, the Creature vows “revenge.”
I should be Adam. God was proud of Adam. But Satan’s the one I sympathise with. For I was cast out, like Satan, though I did no wrong. And when I see others content, I feel the bile rise in my throat, and it tastes like Satan’s bile! -The Creature explains to Victor
The central question of this story: Who is the real monster- the Creature or Frankenstein himself? The young scholar Frankenstein rejects his creation, cursing it and throwing it out into the streets (along w/ a notebook of experiments). While Victor has been engaged to Elizabeth (a pretty, strong-willed, yet empathetic Naomie Harris), he barely speaks w/ her or shows any kind of affection. The outcast/lonely Creature desperately wants someone to love, asking Victor to make “a mate” for him. At first, Victor is repulsed by the notion, but quickly becomes intrigued at the thought of “the perfect woman.” They shake hands (strike a bargain) and Victor goes off to England, then Scotland, to do his work. From here, the play gets even darker in tone! (Now I’m curious about the original book.)
 Using the first 30 minutes to display the creature gradually “building” his own personality, Dear places the “voice” and troubled psychological aspect of the creature right at the centre of the adaptation, with Dear smartly showing Frankenstein and the towns people’s interactions from the outcast point of view of the creature. Whilst the screenplay does show that Frankenstein and the towns people turn the creature into “the monster” that they fear, due to being focused on the permanently damaged exterior and not the welcoming, and repairable interior of the creature.
Benedict Cumberbatch gives an unexpectedly subtle, vulnerable performance, with the opening of the film solely focusing on the creature rising from the dead, allowing Cumberbatch to place the viewer deep inside the skin of the character, thanks to Cuberbatch slowly showing the creature transform from being speechless and native, to using human skills such as lying to his deadly advantage.
An intense, must-see thrilling performance from both Cumberbatch and Miller. The dialogues filled with static chemistry, a beautiful and perfect mix between beauty and horror, a destabilized yet animated stage that shows all facets of life and death. A hypnotizing and cutting-edge play, a real work of art that is absolutely not to be missed.
This is a crowd-pleasing Hollywood movie (which I saw w/ my mom 2 wks ago), BUT about a subject we’ve NEVER heard about- three professional African-American (then referred to as “Negro”) women at NASA in the ’60s. ALL the ladies give strong performances here; they have strong chemistry that makes their long-time friendship seem real. At the center is Katherine Coleman (Taraji P. Henson of Empire)- a former child prodigy, widow, mom of 3 young daughters, and mathematician. Her mind works fast, BUT working w/ the team of engineers (under Al Harrison- Kevin Costner in a low-key performance) prepping for the first manned rocket launch IS a challenge. Katherine grows in her job, gaining confidence and respect (even from racist senior engineer Paul Stafford- Jim Parsons of The Big Bang Theory).
In some ways, the film is traditional, esp. how the problems are wrapped up quite nicely. We get the feeling that MAYBE Mary Jackson’s (Janelle Monae) hubby, Levi (Aldis Hodge- star of Underground), is NOT all in for his wife working such long hours and becoming an engineer. However, there are moments where you want to cheer, b/c these ladies are succeeding w/ SO much stacked against them (in a segregated South- Langley, VA). Even going to the bathroom is a hassle, since the “colored” restroom is located on the other side of the large campus!
This story would NOT have been told w/o the 2014 book upon which it’s based by Margot Lee Shetterly. She is the daughter of a NASA engineer (her dad); she also grew up in the same town as these “human computers.” As a youngster, Shetterley knew these ladies as neighbors and fellow churchgoers. Yes, we are in the time before IBM was a household name, though eventually Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) learns FORTRAN to program the new computer.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to be a math/science/history nerd to LOVE this film. (I personally liked the historical elements, esp. the clothes and cars.) One of my fave elements was the slow burn romance between Katherine and a National Guardsman, Major Jim Johnson (Mahershala Ali- also in Moonlight). “It’s very rare to see a black man pursuing a black woman” (as was discussed on the JAN 25th Slate Culture Gabfest). Henson and Ali have great chemistry. The surprise proposal/family dinner scene had me in tears!
Films like this are important, esp. today when certain world leaders are trying to close-up borders, restrict (legal) immigration, and creating unease (in anyone who isn’t straight/ white/Republican/ male). Why NOT take the example of astronaut John Glenn (Glen Powell) in this film? According to historians (and his contemporaries), Glenn was considered “ahead of his time” when it came to race relations. Though one of the white women supervisors tried to rush him inside, Glenn (who later became an Ohio senator) walked over to where the black computers were standing in the welcome line; they shook hands and chatted briefly. Without the combined work on dozens of black women, he would never have gone into space!